With their unilateral decree last week that NFL players must now stand during the national anthem, or be banished to the locker room, the white owners of the NFL have caved to the hateful rantings of a white supremacist President.
Remember, it was last September, just a few weeks into the dangerously long 16-game football season, that Trump launched a vicious and unhinged attack on the players engaged in the anthem protests: "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Yes, the President who previously claimed, “I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me,” is an advocate of firing athletes who engage in legal social protest.
League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who desperately wants us to believe that he and the team owners are uber-patriots, was quick to criticize Trump's comment as “divisive.” However, he also pompously said, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.”
Say what? Since when do we look to league sports to “create a sense of unity”? Team sports, by their very nature, naturally create bitter tribal divisions, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Cowboys fans and Packers fans aren’t supposed to get along. But I digress.
Roger Goodell’s job is to be a compliant mouthpiece for the NFL’s mega-rich white team owners, who settled on the new anthem policy without any input from its players, approximately 70% of whom are African American.
“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” said Goodell, who runs a league that was paid $700,000 to stage “military tributes” during games, still has a team called “the Redskins,” whose cheerleaders were required to escort sponsors and pose topless at a nightclub, and has failed to adequately address its epidemic of concussions. Yet Goodell’s primary mission now is to soothe the fears of his beer, fast food, and erectile dysfunction advertisers, a difficult task when the average viewership for a regular season game dropped 10% last season to 14.9 million people, down from 16.5 million people the previous year.
By the way, in recognition of his exceedingly tough job, NFL owners awarded Goodell a five-year deal in which he can earn up to $200 million, though they held the line by refusing to grant him use of the private jet he was bargaining for. But I digress again.
The NFL owners do not care about the free speech rights of its players, especially its African American players. They just want the protests to go away. So, in their shallow minds, declaring a "respect the anthem” policy was an easy way to achieve that end. But the move has already backfired, because given the context in which it was made, the policy itself is racist in that it solely squelches the speech of black athletes.
Is the policy legal? While that remains to be seen, it just might be. The NFL is a private business, and since the rule is part of its game operations manual, it is not subject to collective bargaining. But whether the policy is determined to be legal or not, the NFL has created yet another massive public relations nightmare for itself. The owners have capitulated to a racist President, whose latest chilling commentary on the subject is, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
So, it is up to the players now. In a show of solidarity, they could all decide to stay in the locker room, though it would be much more effective if they all took a knee in public while the anthem droned on. There is more to protest now than the social injustice against blacks that spurred Colin Kaperenick to action. To take a stand against Trump, the time has come for all of us to take a knee.